North Adams, Massachusetts
North Adams is a city in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, United States. It is part of the Pittsfield, Massachusetts Metropolitan Statistical Area. Its population was 13,708 as of the 2010 census. Best known as the home of the largest contemporary art museum in the United States, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, North Adams has in recent years become a center for tourism, culture and recreation.
North Adams was first settled in 1745 during King George’s War. During the war, Canadian and Native American forces laid siege to Fort Massachusetts (The Fort’s chimney, a stone replica constructed in the 20th century, is located at the rear of the former Price Chopper Supermarket, behind the former Friendly’s). 30 prisoners were taken to Quebec; half died in captivity.
The town was incorporated separately from Adams in 1878, and reincorporated as a city in 1895. The city is named in honor of Samuel Adams, a leader in the American Revolution, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and governor of Massachusetts.
For much of its history, North Adams was a mill town. Manufacturing began in the city before the Revolutionary War, largely because the confluence of the Hoosic River’s two branches provided water power for small-scale industry. By the late 1700s and early 1800s, businesses included wholesale shoe manufacturers; a brick yard; a saw mill; cabinet-makers; hat manufacturers; machine shops for the construction of mill machines; marble works; wagon and sleigh-makers; and an ironworks, which provided the pig iron for armor plates on the Civil War ship, the Monitor.
Expansion westwards started with the creation of three mill Villages, Blackinton in 1821, Greylock in
1846 and Braytonville in 1832, located to take advantage of the Hoosac River’s water power. The 1850 census marked the official shift of the town from agriculture to industry, since more factory workers than farmers now resided in the town. The use of Chinese strikebreakers in 1870, from California to break the North Adams strike of shoe workers was a step in the movement of Chinese from the West coast to the East coast, resulting in East coast Chinatowns in the United States. North Adams was also the headquarters for building the Hoosac Tunnel starting in 1851 and completed in 1874, adding an east-west connection to Boston and Albany to the existing 1842 rail connection to New York. Prior to that time, inter-regional travel was limited to weekly stagecoaches from Albany and Greenfield.
Downtown in 1860, Oliver Arnold and Company was established with the latest equipment for printing cloth. Large government contracts to supply fabric for the Union Army helped the business prosper. During the next four decades, Arnold Print Works became one of the world’s leading manufacturers of printed textiles. It also became the largest employer in North Adams, with some 3,200 workers by 1905. Despite decades of success, falling cloth prices and the lingering effects of the Great Depression forced the company to close its Marshall Street operation in 1942 and consolidated at smaller facilities in Adams.
Later that year, the Sprague Electric Company bought the former print works site. Sprague physicists, chemists, electrical engineers, and skilled technicians were called upon by the U.S. government during World War II to design and manufacture crucial components of advanced weapons systems, including the atomic bomb.
With state-of-the-art equipment, Sprague was a major research and development center, conducting studies on electricity and semi-conducting materials. After the war, its products were used in the launch systems for Gemini moon missions, and by 1966 Sprague employed 4,137 workers in a community of 18,000. From the post-war years to the mid-1980s, Sprague produced electrical components for the booming consumer electronics market, but competition from abroad led to declining sales and, in 1985, the company closed operations on Marshall Street. Its closure devastated the local economy. Unemployment rates rose and population declined.
After Sprague closed, business and political leaders in North Adams sought ways to re-use the vast complex. Williams College Museum of Art director Thomas Krens, who would later become Director of the Guggenheim, was looking for space to exhibit large works of contemporary art that would not fit in conventional museum galleries. When mayor John Barrett III (serving 1984-2009) suggested the vast Marshall Street complex as a possible exhibition site, the idea of creating a contemporary arts center in North Adams began to take shape.
The campaign to build support for the proposed institution, which would serve as a platform for presenting contemporary art and developing links to the region’s other cultural institutions, began in earnest. The Massachusetts legislature announced its support for the project in 1988. Subsequent economic upheaval threatened the project, but broad-based support from the community and the private sector, which pledged more than $8 million, ensured that it moved forward. The eventual proposal used the scale and versatility of the industrial spaces to link the facility’s past and its new life as the country’s largest center for contemporary visual and performing arts.
Since it opened, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) has been part of a larger economic transformation in the region based on cultural, recreational, and educational offerings. North Adams has become home for several new restaurants, contemporary art galleries, and cultural organizations. In addition, once-shuttered area factories and mills have been rehabilitated as lofts for artists to live and work in.
North Adams operates its own public school system, with three elementary schools (Brayton Elementary School, Greylock Elementary School and Colegrove Park Elementary School) and Drury High School, which also serves several neighboring towns. The city is also home to Charles H. McCann Technical High School, as well as several private and parochial schools.
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) enrolls about 1,980 students. The most popular programs are English/Communications, Business, Education, History, Fine & Performing Arts, Psychology, and Sociology. Founded in 1894 as North Adams Normal School, in 1932 the Normal School became the State Teachers College of North Adams. In 1960, the college changed its name to North Adams State College and added professional degrees in Business Administration and Education. In 1997, the name changed to Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, reflective of specialty school status within the Massachusetts State College system. In recent years, MCLA has begun to develop more academic programming in the fields of fine arts and arts management, reflecting the region’s growth as a center of arts and cultural affairs.
Beyond MCLA, the nearest state university is the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The nearest private college is Williams College, in neighboring Williamstown.
As of the census of 2010, there were 13,708 people, 5,652 households, and 3,156 families residing in the city. The city, which is the smallest in Massachusetts, ranks second (after Pittsfield) out of 32 cities and towns in Berkshire County by population. The population density was 665.4 people per square mile (257.2/km2), ranking it 2nd in the county. There were 6,523 housing units at an average density of 316.7 per square mile (122.4/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 93.0% White, 1.8% African American, 0.4% Native American, 1.1% Asian, 0.2% Pacific Islander, 0.8% from other races, and 2.8% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.4% of the population.
There were 5,652 households, out of which 23.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 38.4% were married couples living together, 12.5% had a female householder with no husband present, and 44.2% were non-families. 39.7% of all households were made up of individuals, and 15.0% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.21 and the average family size was 2.98.
In the city, the population was spread out, with 21.74% under the age of 18, 16.9% from 18 to 24, 21.4% from 25 to 44, 23.7% from 45 to 64, and 16.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. For every 100 females, there were 91.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 89.75 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $35,020, and the median income for a family was $90,000. The per capita income for the city was $19,857. About 9.0% of families and 22.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 11.0% of those age 20 or over.